I went down, my chin banging against the floor. The walls whirled as he flipped me onto my back once more. This time his body settled on mine, and the weight, heavy and consuming—terrifying and repulsive—drove me crazy. I clawed at his face, screaming as my fingernails dug into his cheek. Pink welts appeared, quickly spilling blood as I dragged my hand down.

He threw his head back, howling as he lifted his arm. I didn’t even see his fist coming. Pain exploded along my cheek and eye. A fiery sensation stole my breath as the pain burst along my mouth. I tasted something metallic. Dazed, it took me a second to realize that he’d hit me twice. Twice. A man had never hit me in my entire life. Not counting my brothers when we were younger and used to beat the snot out of one another.

I opened my eyes—or one eye. My left didn’t seem to want to work right. I saw him raising his fist again, and as my heart dropped, I brought my leg up as hard as I could. He anticipated the move, shifting so my knee connected with the inside of his thigh.

Cursing under his breath, he wrapped his hand around my throat and squeezed—squeezed tight enough that I hadn’t realized I’d taken my last breath until it was too late. “For such a little thing, you sure as hell—”


Hope kindled to life at the sound of Reece’s voice floating up from my apartment. He was here—oh my God, he was here. I couldn’t believe it. I opened my mouth to yell back, but Kip slammed his hand down on my mouth, muffling my scream. The grip was brutal, smashing my lips against my teeth. He moved so quickly, his other hand reaching around to his back. There was a quick glimmer of something shiny and the cool metal pressed against the base of my throat.

He had a knife.

“Say one word, and I’ll give you a different kind of smile,” he whispered. “Do you understand me?”

My chest clenched as I stared into his cold, piercing eyes. I really couldn’t nod, but he seemed to see the understanding in my face. “Up,” he ordered.

As Kip hauled me onto my feet, I heard Reece down below, shouting out my name again. He sounded closer, as if he were near the closet. My heart pounded as Kip kept the knife against my throat, pushing me toward the bedroom door. Reece was smart. He would see the open door inside the closet, the stairwell, and he would come looking for me. Kip had to have realized that too.

Kip cursed again as he turned so I was facing the closet door. Heavy steps thundered throughout the apartment, matching the tempo of my racing heart. We were almost out of the room when Reece burst out of the closet, gun drawn and pointed straight at where we stood.


Time appeared to have frozen.

Terror and hope warred inside me as my gaze briefly met Reece’s. For the tiniest moment, I saw what he was feeling when he saw me. It was in those beautiful, sea-colored eyes of his. Panic. Fear. A rage I knew could be deadly, that promised retribution. I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking when he came through that door and saw this. I had no idea how I started off the day waking up with resolve and determination to really start the process of moving on with my life and then this, God, this was happening.

But I should know by now that none of life could truly be planned. My life—our lives—were about to be thrown off course yet again.

Kip slipped his hand off my mouth and wrapped his arm around my waist as he kept the knife against my throat.

In a split second, Reece’s jaw locked down and his lips thinned. Everything about his face went emotionless.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, my words coming out a little mushed-sounding.

Reece’s eyes were like chips of blue diamonds. “Babe, none of this is your fault.”

I knew that, but I didn’t want Reece to see any of this, and I didn’t want him to get hurt. Those were the last two things I wanted.

“You’re right,” Kip spat back. “If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s yours. She was fine before you came along. You made her into a whore.”

The man was legit crazy.

“You really are making me want to put a bullet between your eyes,” Reece countered, his voice threaded with barely controlled anger.

“And you really want me to finish this?”

The muscle flexed along Reece’s jaw. “Bud, all I want you to do is really think about—”

“Don’t come any closer.” Kip pushed the knife into my skin, causing me to yelp. A thin trickle of wet warmth ran down my throat as he stepped to the side, bringing me with him. “I swear to God, I will end her!”

“I’m not coming any closer.” Reece kept the gun level. “But I want to know what you’re thinking. How you’re planning for this to go down.”

“Does that really fucking matter?” Kip stepped again, and Reece didn’t move toward him, but he mirrored his movements until we’d switched positions. Our backs were to the closet now. “There’s no way out of this. I’m not fucking stupid. I know what needs to be done.”

My pulse skyrocketed as Kip’s fingers flexed around the handle of the knife. My mind raced into scary places, one where my throat ended up slit and Kip got away with everything he’d done by doing one thing. Committing suicide via police officer. Kip knew he was done. I doubted he would just put the knife down and surrender.

I saw Reece’s gaze slide to the left, behind us for just a fraction of a second, but I could’ve been imagining it or seeing things, because my vision wasn’t the greatest without my glasses and one open eye.

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